Swearing in public could hit the people of Rochdale in the pocket by up to £100 if the town's council gets its way.
The Labour-run Town Hall is hoping to introduce a public spaces protection order (PSPO), which could lead to anyone caught “using foul and abusive language’” being warned, moved on or given an on-the-spot fine.
The plans were greeted with anger from free speech advocates who say the proposal breaches human rights.
Guarantee anyone in Rochdale that gets fined for swearing will almost definitely respond with more swearing— Michael DadBod Moore (@MichaelMoore104) March 8, 2017
Other forms of behaviour to fall foul of the proposed PSPO would include begging, loitering, antisocial parking, playing loud music, loudly revving car engines, street drinking, unauthorised charity collections and skateboarding.
Council chiefs say the crackdown is aimed at stopping “a small minority who spoil it” for the rest of the Lancashire town.
The town’s Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, told BBC radio he thought the ban was “needed”.
But the proposal has been criticised by human rights group Liberty, who told the Manchester Evening News it would amount to “a staggering misuse of power” which would “unjustifiably curb the rights and freedoms of Rochdale residents”.
Lara ten Caten, legal officer from Liberty, said that PSPOs were “blunt instruments” being used to try and “sweep away anyone and anything seen as inconvenient from the streets.
“The swearing ban is so vaguely defined it would prove impossible for anyone to know whether they were breaking the law or not, while a blanket ban on begging will criminalise some of the most vulnerable people in the town.”
But council leader Richard Farnell told local media the proposed crackdown on “anti-social behaviour” is intended to make the town a more welcoming place.
“There have been instances, particularly with people who have been drinking, who have been shouting and swearing aggressively at shoppers.
“When you are shopping with your children, that’s the last thing you want. It’s already a public order offence, but the police have limited resources so we want to give council officers the powers to help them with incidents like this.
“We’re investing £250m in our town centre and we are doing everything in our power to create a vibrant, family-friendly and attractive place for everyone.
“We are also putting measures in place to help homeless and vulnerable people, by directing them to services such as homeless charity Petrus, so it’s not just about moving them on.
“But I must stress that this is at the very early stages of consultation. We’re not ruling anything in or out at this stage. Now we want to have a grown-up discussion to see if these are the right measures.”
And he hit back at the criticism from Liberty, saying: “With all the horrific human rights abuses happening around the world right now, I would have thought Liberty had bigger things to worry about."
Rochdale residents gave a mixed reaction to the proposed ban. One woman called a local radio station and was so angry about it, she turned the airwaves blue herself.
We asked people from Rochdale what they thought of the council's plan to ban swearing in the town, this is what they said pic.twitter.com/OlSMvzKer8— Alex Hibbert-MEN (@alexghibbert) March 9, 2017
Another tweeter referred to headline-making scandal of child sexual exploitation in the town, which authorities were found to have turned a blind eye to, suggesting "there's more important issues to tackle like grooming or even the pot hole crisis."
Swearing ban in Rochdale? Hmm sure there's more important issues to tackle like grooming or even the pot hole crisis 🤔🤔🤔🤔— beth (@beth_yeomans) March 9, 2017
Phone in on Rochdale's plans to issue fines for swearing in public. One caller so angry about people swearing that she swore herself! #OMG— Rosie Wright (@rosiewright99) March 9, 2017
Salford Council introduced a similar swearing ban in the upmarket Salford Quays area in 2015, leading to pranksters erecting a “swear bench” with a list of prices to be paid for each profanity.
A “swearing choir” also gave a performance in the Quays in response to the order.
Salford Council told The Independent that not a single person had been fined for swearing since the PSPO was introduced.
Cllr David Lancaster said: “It has done its job and calmed things down at the Quays. We have had very few reports of anti-social behaviour since it was introduced.